A research group in London announced in the July issue of the Journal of Dental Research that tooth structures were created for the first time using stem cells, mimicking the natural development of the tooth. The replicated teeth contained enamel, dentin, and pulp, the three components of the human tooth.
Stem cell research has been an issue of hot debate among conservative Christians and other pro-life groups. Stem cells are harvested largely in two forms – as adult stem cells and as embryonic stem cells. The adult stem cells are much less versatile than their embryonic counterparts and are able to transform into other cells such as liver, nerve, or muscle. Embryonic cells on the other hand are harvested from the destroyed embryo – a procedure tantamount to the early-stage abortion. Of additional concern is that minor forms of cloning are used to increase the yield of embryonic cells – a process that some see as a precursor to the widely reviled concept of human cloning.
But as stem cell research continues to mature and yield more practical applications, the question of whether the research gains will outweigh the drawbacks will become more difficult to answer. Although the research that was reported by the London researches is years away from having commercial application, the promise is certainly there for profound health benefits.
Today, any teeth lost through trauma or disease is replaced with artificial replicas, sometimes held in place by the teeth adjacent. When the stem cell research on teeth is finished, it is possible that real teeth can be grown into place. Because the tooth is a relatively simple part of the body, additional research may yield even more significant contributions, such as reproduced organs for transplant.
However the research on stem cells progresses, we must acknowledge that our cumulative knowledge of the human body is increasing exponentially, and that biomedical research will irreparably alter the landscape of medicine. As Christians, we should pray for guidance at this crossroads of history, trusting in the full providence of the Lord’s guiding hand.